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EARLY START

Russia Vows to Retaliate for Sanctions; Ceasefire in Syria; New Year's Eve Security. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:13] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the Russians finalizing a response to unprecedented sanctions leveled by the White House over this year's election hack. How will Moscow fight back? We're live in Russia.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: A new cease-fire taking effect in Syria after more than five years of bloodshed. The pause, is this enough to get the two sides talking about lasting peace? We're live in the Middle East.

KOSIK: And they are getting ready to party in Times Square. Less than 48 hours to the big ball drop, security is being stepped up ahead of the big New Year's Eve celebrations. We're going to tell you what new steps are being taken.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns. It's Friday, December 30th. It's 4:00 in the morning, in the East. Christine and John are off.

This morning, we are waiting to see what steps the Russians plan to take. They're vowing to retaliate likely today for the sanctions President Obama has just laid down, punishing Russia for election hacking. The White House announcing measures against four individuals and five entities, all connected to a Russian intelligence, and also expelling dozens of diplomats. The U.S. sanctions drawing condemnation from both the Russian government and the president-elect.

Donald Trump again downplaying the election hack, but with a new twist. His statement, "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of the situation."

A top Trump aide is dismissing the sanctions as toothless and aimed at limiting the president-elect's options as much as punishing Russia. Here is Kellyanne Conway on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISER: These retaliations, these sanctions put forward by President Obama and his administration, some of them seem largely symbolic. Even on those who are sympathetic to President Obama on those issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to, quote, "box in" President-elect Trump. That would be very unfortunate if that were the motivating -- if politics were the motivating factor here. But we can't help but think that that's open true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: CNN's Athena Jones is with President Obama in Hawaii. She has more on the sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe and Alison. The president is calling these steps necessary and appropriate and said they are coming after repeated private and public warnings to the Russian government.

He said all Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions and he repeated his previous assertion that these activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Now, what are the steps the U.S. has taken?

The Treasury Department has named nine entities and individuals who are now going to be subject to expanded sanctions. Those include Russia's military intelligence unit and its chief, as well as the domestic security service. The State Department is declaring 35 Russian intelligence operatives persona non grata and giving these spies 72 hours to leave the country.

The government is also shutting down two Russian government-owned compounds. One in New York and another on the eastern shore of Maryland not far from Washington, D.C. The White House says that Russia should not be surprised by these actions and they're stressing that the announced moves are not, quote, "the sum total of our response."

The U.S. is also taking covert measures, all of this aimed at delivering one message to Russia, that there are consequences to the actions. Russia has vowed to take reciprocal measures. And these measures could be coming very soon.

Russia's foreign ministry spokesman saying in a statement on Facebook that Russia will announce retaliation measures on Friday, saying, quote, "Tomorrow will be the official statements counter measures and a lot of other things." Tomorrow, of course, being today.

Back to you, guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: All right. Athena Jones, thanks very much.

The U.S. sanctions also include two Russian hackers who've been on the FBI most wanted list for years. Evgeniy Bogachev and Aleksey Belan are both wanted for large scale theft of money and personal identifying information. Both men are fugitives. They're whereabouts unknown.

The administration backing up the sanctions with the release of a report from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. It lays out unclassified technical details explains how federal investigators linked Russian intelligence agencies to the hack of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. The report says the Russian cyber attacks have been code named Grizzly Step.

Meantime, as we wait for word of Moscow's retaliation for the U.S. sanctions, Russia has already launched a few early actions, including this insult via Twitter from the Russian embassy in London. "President Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in Cold War deja vu as everybody, including the American people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless administration." You can see there, the cute picture of a lame duck or a duckling, however you interpret that picture. Undiplomatic I would say.

OK, for the latest from Moscow, let's bring in CNN's Matthew Chance live for us.

Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alison, that's right. There's been a scathing response so far from Russian officials. You mentioned that tweet from the London embassy. They've been Russian embassies around the word that have tweeted the same things, basically very critical of the Obama administration.

The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted something on Facebook as well. She does commentaries of her own Facebook page, dismissing the Obama administration as, quote, "a group of vindictive, unimaginative foreign policy failures", with the exception of the secretary of state John Kerry who she has worked with extensively.

In terms of the substantial response to the sanctions from the United States and expulsions of Russian diplomats, we're still pretty much in the dark about what concrete measures the Russians are going to take. But the Kremlin spokesman told us last night that there was gong to be reciprocity in this, which is, you know, basically indicating there's going to be a tit-for-tat, expulsions of U.S. diplomats that are working here in Moscow as well.

But the final decision, the Kremlin says, obviously rest with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and he is in no hurry, the Kremlin says, to make that decision. Now, whether that means that President Putin is thinking of holding off on strong action because he knows very well that in three weeks or less than that, Donald Trump is going to be taking his place in the Oval Office. He's going to be running the administration in the United States.

And Donald Trump is seen here as being much more friendly toward the Russian point of view. He is someone the Russians can do a deal with on a range of issues that have divided Moscow and the United States over the past couple of years. And there's a sentiment that may act as a restraint on the response from Moscow to these latest U.S. sanctions. We'll see, though.

Again, as the previous reports mentioned, there will be an announcement later today on what concrete steps the Russians are going to take in response to these U.S. sanctions and expulsions.

KOSIK: It certainly be interesting to hear just what the Kremlin says.

All right. CNN's Matthew Chance, thanks so much.

JOHNS: The big question now, could President-elect Donald Trump reverse the U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia?

Here's what homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA MONACO, OBAMA HOMELAND SECURITY & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: A reversal of sanctions such as what you've described would be highly unusual. Indeed, the sanctions usually remain in place until the activity and the reasons for them being imposed in the first place has been removed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Meanwhile, a senior Obama administration official tells CNN, "If a future president decided that he wanted to allow in a large tranche of Russian intelligence agents, presumably a future president could invite that action. We think it would be inadvisable."

KOSIK: The sanctions are being met with a mixed response. Most lawmakers are happy to see some action, while some Republicans say it doesn't go far enough.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both on an overseas trip visiting Russia's Baltic neighbors, they put a joint statement on the threat posed by Moscow's hack, saying this, "The retaliatory measures by the Obama administration today are long overdue, but ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen on American democracy. We intend to lead the efforts in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia."

Meantime, House Speaker Paul Ryan says Russia does not share America's interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today's action by the administration is overdue, it is appropriate to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration's ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world."

Incoming Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer offering unqualified backing in a tweet, "Strongly supports the Obama administration's work to fight back against Russia's interference in our election. We need to punch back and punch back hard." JOHNS: Turning to domestic politics. A buffalo, New York school board looking to oust millionaire developer Carl Paladino from his post after he made offensive remarks about the Obamas. Paladino who co- chaired Donald Trump's New York campaign told a newspaper he wanted to see the president die from mad cow disease and the first lady living with a gorilla in Africa.

The school board giving him 24 hours to resign. If he doesn't, the board says it will ask the state education commissioner to remove him.

[04:10:04] And Paladino is refusing to go, vowing not to give in to what he called vanquished progressive haters.

KOSIK: Can the latest cease-fire in Syria long enough to allow real talks to stop the civil war? More live from the Mideast, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: A new cease-fire now under way in Syria. It's part of a deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, including a return to peace talks after more than five years of war. Turkey's president calling the deal a historic opportunity that shouldn't be squandered. But Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledging the pact is fragile.

For the latest on the ground in Syria, CNN's Ian Lee joining us now live with more -- Ian.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe.

Right now, we are hearing from people on the ground that this cease- fire is holding. It is relatively calm. Although there have been reports of some fighting.

This is a three-part cease-fire. First, the goal between Turkey and the rebels and Russia and Syrian regime is to stop the fighting. The second step is to create a mechanism so that if there are violations, that they can hash it out and talk it over and so fighting doesn't resume. The third step is that they will have peace negotiations next month.

Now, both sides have said that this is quite fragile. And there is a long time between now and those negotiations in Kazakhstan.

JOHNS: Ian, President Assad made more news yesterday, talking about President-elect Donald Trump saying there is optimism on his end about a Trump presidency. What more do you know about that?

LEE: Well, let me read you the statement that he said. It is "part of the optimism could be related to better relations between the United States and Russia. If there's good relations between these two great powers, most of the world, including small countries like Syria, will be the beneficiary of this relationship."

[04:15:08] And it is no secret that Donald Trump has expressed warm views toward Russia. It seems like things will get better under a Trump administration, although there is a lot of factors at play in the United States and Russian politics. But when that plays out on the ground in Syria, Bashar al Assad is hopeful that once Donald Trump is in office, Russia has invited the Trump administration to these peace talks and that there could be more pressure from the United States on different factions inside Syria to get a peace deal together.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks for that, Ian Lee, in Istanbul.

KOSIK: The United Kingdom criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry for his comments on Israel this week. A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May says it is not appropriate to go after the political composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. May's office goes on to say, "While it considers the settlements construction illegal, they are far from the only problem in the conflict with the Palestinians."

Kerry on Wednesday went after Israel's government as the most right wing in the state's history and portrayed the settlements as the biggest obstacle standing in the way of peace.

JOHNS: France is raising its so-called terror tax to help support victims. Citizens will pay almost $1.70 more on their property insurance policies. The cash goes directly to a fund set up for victims of terror attacks that recently hit the country. More than 200 people have died in France in attacks over the last 20 months. Eighty-six people died this summer in an attack in Nice, while 120 people were killed there in November in the 2015 attacks in Paris.

KOSIK: Security being stepped up in a big way ahead of the big New Year's Eve festivities in Times Square. The steps taken to protect millions of partiers, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:20:28] KOSIK: Time for an early start on your money. Global stocks are mixed this morning, as markets enter the last trading day of 2016. Now, Dow probably won't hit elusive 20,000 today but U.S. futures, they're higher after closing a bit lower yesterday.

Despite a lackluster year end, stocks have enjoyed a great run in 2016. Markets recovered from one of the worst ever starts to the year to hit a series of record highs. The Dow, the NASDAQ and S&P, they are all on track for solid annual gains with the Dow up almost 14 percent this year. Not something to sneeze up.

Could Twitter be getting an edit button? CEO Jack Dorsey says the company is seriously considering it, after the co-founder asked his almost 4 million followers how the company could improve in 2017. So, it turns an edit option, that was the biggest request. Other suggestions, improving how conversations appear and better ways to cut down on harassment. Amen to that.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

The New York City Police Department ramping up security in Times Square this Saturday for New Year's Eve. At least 2 million people are expected to pack the crossroads of the world and authorities say they are pulling out all the stops in order to keep revelers safe.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has a preview of what to expect, next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe and Alison, 2 million people are expected to ring in the New Year here in Times Square on New Year's Eve. And you can imagine it basically takes an army to protect the city against any possible threat.

Now, no credible threats against the ball drop at this point, according to the NYPD, but every precaution is taking place. We are told by the NYPD, they are actually preparing for this once the ball drops earlier this year. It is a multilayer level of security.

Two things to note, though, that we haven't seen in previous years at this particular event, and that is 65 sand trucks and 100 barrier trucks which are basically department vehicles, they are going to form a perimeter around this Times Square area. That is in direct response to the truck-style attacks that we saw in both Nice and in Berlin.

We also know, just within the last few weeks, authorities with the NYPD have been visiting truck rental centers. They've been visiting parking garages. They've been talking to hotel owners just to make sure keeping every precaution for the security again is going to track millions as they ring in this New Year -- Joe and Alison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: All right. Brynn, thanks very much.

And everybody wants to know what the weather is going to be like, especially all these people who are going to stand out there in Times Square.

JOHNS: They don't even care. The party is already getting started, you know that.

KOSIK: You have been there this morning? You checked it out.

Well, mild temperatures for the festivities in Times Square are expected, but it's going to be a snowy white New Year for many in New England.

Let's get to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

Good morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Joe and Alison, good morning, guys.

Yes, plenty of snow around parts of New England. And look at the uniformity in the temperatures this morning. How about a trio of 31s from, say, places like Chicago, Detroit, outwards Buffalo, a couple of 20s from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis. A trio of 14s, you work your way out towards the Northeast, Burlington in to Boston. A few 35s.

Again, it shows you little disparity in the air mass. It is in the teens around the upper Midwest, into the 30s, and conducive of heavy snow showers. This is an area we've had not only blizzard conditions at times, but also having an avalanche threat in places.

Heavy snowfall confined to the northern portion of the New England. You work your way down towards the major metro areas of Boston, New York. Philly is a different story. It is all rain, fortunately, for the higher populations. But notice this, up to two feet has come down in 12 hours in new England.

There goes the center of circulation and the lake enhanced snow showers left in place. Should see additional heavy snow throughout the early morning commute across portions of Maine, notice around Mount Washington on the eastern area there, that you have the avalanche threat currently in place and a blustery Friday shaping up for us and potentially a blustery Saturday night.

But it looks like the rains will hold off and temperatures should be mild, at least relatively speaking, for the Northeast for Saturday night -- guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Thanks, Pedram.

A South Carolina judge ordering Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to undergo a second competency evaluation before his sentencing. It comes a day after Roof who represents himself in the trial's penalty phase said he would give an opening statement, but not call witnesses or submit any evidence. The competency hearing is scheduled for Monday. Roof faces the death penalty for killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston church last year.

[04:25:04] KOSIK: North Charleston police officer Michael Slager facing a retrial in March in the murder of Walter Scott. A mistrial was declared earlier this month after jurors said they were unable to come to a unanimous decision. Slager is accused of gunning down Scott, who is unarmed, during a traffic stop last April. Video of the incident appears to show the moment Slager killed Scott as he ran away. That footage has garnered national attention.

JOHNS: 2016 was the deadliest year for police officers nationwide since 2011. A report by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund finds 135 officers died in 2016. Some died in traffic accidents, but nearly half were shot to death. That is a 56 percent increase in shooting deaths over the previous year. Of the 64 officers shot and killed in the line of duty, 21 were killed in ambush attacks.

KOSIK: A mother/daughter funeral is reportedly being planned for Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. ABC News is reporting that Todd Fisher, that's Reynolds' son and Fisher's brother, says a joint funeral is in the works, where the two screen legends will be honored side by side. He says, at the moment, there is no set date or location for memorial service. The 84-year-old Reynolds died Wednesday, one day after Fisher passed away at the age of 60. Heartbreaking.

JOHNS: We are watching Moscow where officials are weighing retaliation following U.S. sanctions over the election hacks. It could come down at anytime. We are live in Moscow, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Happening now, Russia is putting together a retaliatory response to new sanctions leveled by the White House over this year's election hacking. What does Moscow have in mind? We're live in Russia.

KOSIK: In Syria, the early hours of a new cease-fire between the Assad regime and rebel groups after more than five years of bloodshed.